Thursday, May 31, 2012

Portnoy Forever

The Huffington Post book section asked me why Portnoy's Complaint endures. My answer is here and below: faithful readers of the excerpt in the Chronicle of Higher Education will notice some familiar things. 

Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint was a prodigy's most sensational fiction, not coincidentally about a prodigiously articulate hero. We remember Alex Portnoy impaling with pitiless thrusts invasive mothers, plugged-up fathers, dizzying women in heat. We remember him giving the English language perhaps its most perfect alliteration: "publicly pleasing my parents while privately pulling my putz." The book taught us to acknowledge how erotic fuel can blow up ambitions, how Jews can choke on pathos, and psychoanalytic theories can expose the hidden and oversimplify the obvious. Let's get this out of the way: you still can get intelligent, graying people to laugh out loud simply by coupling "Alex" with "liver":

So galvanic [explains Portnoy] is the effect of cotton panties against my mouth--so galvanic is the word "panties"--that the trajectory of my ejaculation reaches startling new heights... I begin a scrupulous search of the shower curtain, the tub, the tile floor, the four toothbrushes--God forbid!--and just as I am about to unlock the door, imagining I have covered my tracks, my heart lurches at the sight of what is hanging like snot to the toe of my shoe. I am the Raskolnikov of jerking off . . .

Portnoys' Complaint, in short, gave us boomers, and not just Jews, an experience quite like what I imagine gay people now feel when they come out of the closet. Here, now, is the rest of me. By 1975, six years after the book's publication, Portnoy's Complaint had sold nearly half a million copies in hardback in the United States, three and a half million in paperback. The book brought what was in the back of our minds to the tips of tongues. Or as President Obama asked, greeting the winners of the National Humanities Medal in 2010 (Roth among them), "How many young people have learned to think by reading the exploits of Portnoy and his complaints?"
The question is, why has Portnoy's Complaint survived to engage new generations, getting as many hits on Google today as, say, Zadie Smith's break-out novel, White Teeth? Shouldn't the novel seem dated by now--afflicted with an "oddly period feel," as Michael Chabon put it--pushing an envelope whose sides, thanks inter alia to the novel itself, we no longer feel pressing in on us very much? Iconic works often have a way of captivating future generations, but also of making themselves seem deceptively tame to future generations. Why the continuing punch?
The answer, I think, is that the book was always wonderfully enigmatic, giving us a voice that cannot mock others without first mocking itself, the sound of a psychoanalytic room yet no way to judge or sympathize with what we were hearing--no vantage point, no moral pivot, nothing but an eavesdropping on analysand and analyst, both of whom seemed verging on parody. Who, after all, is the object of the satire? Sophie, the Jewish mother? The hysterical shikse beauty Alex calls "The Monkey"? Le bourgeoisie and its self-possession? Or, is it Alex himself, whose extreme versions of all of the above, and even more extreme dissatisfaction with himself, leaves Spielvogel speechless?
Well, almost speechless. Indeed, the analyst's punch-line at the end of Alex's eloquent kvetch--"Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?"--left some readers certain that Spielvogel must be the intended hero of the piece; that freedom is not (or not only) complaint, that narcissism could become what Christopher Lasch called "a culture." Alas, the enigma of Portnoy's Complaint is bigger still. For the novel leaves us with the lingering suspicion that the analyst was also a little too prone to extreme inventions, a totemic mother and a father short on taboo; that Herr Doctor represented an orthodoxy that thought it had an explanation for everything, from pleasure to process--that psychoanalysis took liberties for Spielvogel, too.
What is to be made, then, of a satire whose target slides under our hands--from parents to lovers to tribes, from analysand to analyst--and seems to keep us sliding on? The joke was on everybody, you see, which is another way of saying it was on readers and the act of reading itself. Roth didn't just make us laugh out loud. He left us laughing, nervously, at all forms of orthodoxy. Portnoy's Complaint did not simply undermine our sense of what happiness is or might be--by transgressing bourgeois norms, underlining ambivalent notions of sexual respectability, and so forth. It undermined the hope of pursuing it with confidence in our language, sense of ethics, and perceptions.
I know I shall be pitied for saying this, but Portnoy's Complaint was the closest thing we had, back in 1969, to the culmination of forces unleashed by a decade of civil rights, a kind of awakening to liberalism's full and tragic implications. We were supposed to be judged by "the content of our characters." The trailing insight of the book: good luck. The novel's readers learned to think alright, but our conclusion, though we only dimly perceived it, was that we were inevitably enmeshed in heartbreaking relations and (if we are decent) self-criticism. Precisely because perceptions are idiosyncratic, the principle of tolerance must be absolute.
And that's the power of the novel today, too. Dickens lives on because he speaks to the bullied, ambitious child in us. Salinger speaks to a teenager's rejection of phonies. Roth, by giving us Alex, speaks to and through the nervous young person who lives on in us more resiliently; speaks to that hyper-precious moment when the child goes into eclipse, the teen having long before been launched, and adult pleasures (bodies, risk, power) and their surprising allies (dissembling, aggression, moral equivocation) present themselves.
"A wonderful fact to reflect upon," Dickens writes, famously, in A Tale of Two Cities, "that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other." Portnoy's Complaint shows us as few books have how we rely on our capacity to invent fictions about one another to establish our singularity and strive against its loneliness. We want, and want! and WANT, things to be different for us.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Confusion Of The Jews

Israelis and African refugees protest the expulsion. Photo: Daniel Cherrin
“You've got to be taught to hate and fear, you've got to be taught from year to year”—so go the famous lines from South Pacific, arguably the stupidest ever to put to music.

The one thing we do not have to be taught is hate. Fear of what seems strange comes as naturally as protection for what is loved. What we have to be taught, year to year, is to recognize the rights of people we incline to fear; to create laws that extend to them the means to be included in a decent equality; to support a legal framework in which our inclination to preemptively attack one another is—how did Hobbes put it?—“restrained.”

Which brings me to three items in the media last week, all about Israel’s political psychology, all missing the point somehow, because they fail to acknowledge what is missing in Israel’s law. The first are reports of the riot in Tel Aviv’s Shechunat Hatiqva against African refugees, the second is Yousef Munayyer’s op-ed in the New York Times about Israel’s treatment of its Arab citizens, and the third is Bob Simon’s report in “60 Minutes” about the Tel Aviv’s “bubble.” There are dots to be connected.

I won’t recapitulate what each states or implies. Suffice it to say that reports of the riot focus on the alleged bigotry of Israelis, and Munayyer’s op-ed highlights ways Israel’s immigration officials target Arab citizens in ways that can only be called discriminatory.

One would conclude that Israel is a small place, incapable of transcending a growing racism inherent in its “situation,” which polls of youth tend to confirm. But then along comes Simon’s report upending this idea, celebrating Tel Aviv elites as living in a “bubble” of cosmopolitanism, though indifferent to the suffering that’s in their backyard. What are we to believe about Israeli attitudes?

The point is, Israel’s problem is not attitudes but the absence of a constitutional frame, including methods of naturalization, that shape attitudes. Don’t be misled by Simon’s fascination with north Tel Aviv’s cosmopolitan atmosphere. The latter is not home grown. The globalization of its young people, in their businesses and universities, has expanded their horizons, while the force of Israeli law otherwise closes them.

In contrast, a broad majority of Israelis—who cannot see beyond the law—cannot also not imagine a “them” that is not the counterpart of a racially or halachically defined view of “us.” (Too many American “Zionists” like things this way.)

Look, if Israel were a democracy like France, Israelis might well think that the acquisition of Hebrew culture, the experience of the Jewish nation, and so forth, would (gradually) make one a part of that nation—i.e., make one “Israeli”—and, after a period of residency, qualify any immigrant for citizenship. Think of children of African, Thai and Filipino workers, born into Israeli life, embracing Israel like Kitty did at the end of Exodus.

But a muddle of Israeli laws discourage this very train of thought: If you are born in Israel to a Jewish mother, then you are, by law, a Jewish national and a citizen. You are also a Jewish national, and subject to immediate citizenship, if you are an immigrant who has not renounced the Jewish faith and are descended from at least one Jewish grandparent—a grandparent, that is, who was born to a Jewish mother who had not renounced her faith. Arabs and other nationalities born in Israel to a mother and father who are citizens are citizens. But if only one parent is a citizen then the child is subject to what Munayyer has endured. It is assumed that an Arab Muslim can never become a Jewish national the way, say, a Jew can become a Frenchman. If an Arab is born outside the country, he or she can forget about becoming a citizen.

The confusions go on. If you are born in Israel to a Jewish father only, then you are a citizen—but can only become a Jewish national, and enjoy its various material privileges, by sincerely converting to Judaism. A non-Jew can also become a Jewish national by converting, like the child born in Israel to a non-Jewish mother, but unlike that child, cannot be a citizen without converting. Then again, the interior minister can just make you a citizen. Clear?

Calling Tel Aviv a bubble in this context confuses the issue. North Tel Aviv is the part of Israel not in a bubble, that is, not disconnected from the liberal world. It is the rest of Israel that is increasingly in a bubble, or more precisely, a ghetto of its own making, afflicted by the “claustrophilia” Arthur Koestler once warned about. You can feel a mounting danger in the attacks on Sudanese refugees in south Tel Aviv, or against Palestinian Arabs in Jerusalem’s Malcha Mall after a football game at nearby Teddy Stadium. The attacks won’t end—and didn’t begin—with them.

The Israeliness Simon implicitly valorizes, however much it swims with global currents, cannot swim against the mental atmosphere engendered by Israeli law, nor can Tel Aviv’s lovely elites compete with orthodox families in producing off-spring. What Israel needs are legal changes, now, to extend secular standards, valorize equality in Israeliness, and curb the privileges of the orthodox rabbinate and educational systems. Mofaz and Netanyahu have the votes, for now. Do they really have the will?

This post may be viewed with other comments at The Daily Beast's "Open Zion" site.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Portnoy, Free At Last!

Last week, I linked to The Chronicle Review's excerpt from Promiscuous, but to the chagrin of many (myself included, I confess), it was put behind a paywall. I am happy to say that the excerpt has now been liberated. You can read it here.

I need not add, do I?, that I am counting on this blog's loyal readers--who after all have had a pretty good deal these past four years--to send the excerpt to friends, post it on Facebook pages, and generally make nuisances of themselves sharing the fun of this book. My thanks to Chronicle Review editor, and Portnoy officianado, Evan Goldstein, for the excerpt's freedom. You can order the book here. (Well, go ahead. I'm waiting...)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Will Israel Recognize Itself?

The Israeli judiciary reaffirmed yesterday that Israel is the only country on earth that does not recognize itself.

The Haifa District Court rejected an appeal submitted by Professor Uzi Ornan, a linguist and member of the Academy of the Hebrew Language (also the founder of the League against Religious Coercion in Israel). Ornan had sought to compel Israel's Interior Ministry to recognize his citizenship as based on his being “Israeli,” that is, a national born in Israel, rather than “Jewish," which he firmly denies.

The court ruled that, no, he is born of a Jewish mother—Jewish according to Halacha whether he likes it or not—and even more important, that the Law of Return’s strictures supersede any other in matters of citizenship. Accordingly, Ornan is to be listed in the registry of populations as Jewish. (The registry, by the way, recognizes over 100 nationalities, but “Israeli” is not one of them, though the Supreme Court has regularly been petitioned by people like former Education Minister Shulamit Aloni and former Air Force chief, the late Benny Peled, to do so.)

"A judge appeals to Jewish law, and the ruling shows that Israel is a Jewish community and not a civilian state," Ornan lamented.

For many American “Zionists” this may all seem fine. As I've written here before, they tend to think of Jerusalem as a kind of Jewish Epcot Center and Israel as a world Jewish convention to which they are super-delegates. But for people like Ornan, eager to establish a secular state apparatus—and long after the peculiar historical circumstances that made the Law of Return necessary has passed—the decision is infuriating. It underlines how compromised by theocracy the state has become in the absence of a democratic constitution and the presence of an occupation justified by messianic notions of peoplehood.

In effect, the court is telling Israeli citizens that naturalization to a distinctly Israeli nation, if not impossible, is beside the point. Imagine what this means for Israel’s future as a democracy, given that one-fifth of Israel’s citizens are not Jewish. The court is implying that democracy is just the tyranny of the Jewish majority, and it defines “Jewish” as a religious sentiment and biological fact.

Nor does one need much political imagination to see how liberal Israeli Arabs who have mastered modern Hebrew (unlike “returning” Jews from Brookline or Teaneck) would regard this decision. It is a repudiation of the very possibility of a Hebrew civil space into which they might assimilate. Think of what Duddy Kravitz might have said if the courts decided that a Quebecer with full rights—including, as in Israel, the right to acquire most land—must be a descendant of a family tree documented by the St. Jean-Baptiste Society and Catholic according to the Bishop of Montreal.

Then again, real Zionists should be disgusted by this ruling too. For Zionism’s real point was democratizing, liberating, modernizing; it meant to create the cultural innovations that would put Hebrew in every individual citizen’s hand. As Achad Haam put it in an essay he (clumsily, but precisely) entitled “Competitive Emulation or Self-effacing Imitation,” the emancipated Zionists’ future would be something like the Jews’ confrontation with the ancients:

Long before the Hellenists in Palestine tried to substitute Greek culture for Judaism, the Jews in Egypt had come into close contact with the Greeks, with their life, their spirit, and their philosophy: yet we do not find among them any pronounced movement towards assimilation. On the contrary, they employed their Greek knowledge as an instrument for revealing the essential spirit of Judaism, for showing the world its beauty, and vindicating it against the proud philosophy of Greece. 

This was code: the Hebrew writers of Zionism were now reprising this Hellenizing genius and synthesis. Diaspora Jews—stuck in ghettos with retrograde Halachic norms—lacked these Hebrew things. They lacked a nuanced way into historic Jewish philosophical writings, legal principles, liturgy, poetics. They lacked the confidence to let go of the kitsch and the junk.

The new Jewish nation, in contrast, would be a permeable community of Hebrew speaking citizens, a collective of infinitely complex individuals, each with unalienable rights, who shared a special purchase on accumulated Jewish sacred texts, narratives, fictions, liturgy, legal debates, mystical speculations, music, historical records.

Jews made confident by a national home—so Achad Haam thought—would relish the chance to prove the strengths of their culture in open contest. They would breathe in what was best in others, breathe out what was enduring about Judaism. They would have the means not only to resist assimilation into other national cultures, but to assimilate others into their own.

The court, in stupidly valorizing Halachic norms, is asking Israelis to throw all of this away: to accept law that debases Zionism’s greatest achievement, presumably for the sake of Jewish solidarity. But the challenge, you see, is not a Jewish and democratic state. It is to define both “Jewish” and the claim of state sovereignty in ways democrats everywhere can understand. That may not be exactly what Achad Haam meant by “modern.” But it is close enough.

This post may be viewed with other comments at The Daily Beast's "Open Zion" site.

Monday, May 14, 2012

'Promiscuous': Portnoy's Enduring Complaint

Illustration for The Chronicle Review by Scott Seymour
My new book, Promiscuous: Portnoy's Complaint And Our Doomed Pursuit Of Happiness, was formally published a couple of weeks ago, though authors no longer know exactly what "published" means, since most books are sold (and pre-sold) online and get to only very targeted bookstores. Books feel published when major reviews come out or when parts are excerpted in places that give readers a taste of what's to come. So I prefer to mark today as the publication date, with this long excerpt appearing in this week's The Chronicle of Higher Education.

I was sent this link by a Facebook friend; The Chronicle Review has put the excerpt behind their pay-wall, and the magazine is well worth the subscription if the link does not work. Then again, you may order the book here for considerably less.

Some early reviews here: the first from Kirkus, the second from The Jerusalem Post, the third from Tablet, and the forth from the Jewish Book Council.

You can read the blurbs here.

The book was a labor of love. I hope it gives you as much pleasure to read as it gave me to write.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Netanyahu's Coup

I know I should be appalled by Shaul Mofaz’s opportunism and Benjamin Netanyahu’s grin but I confess to being just a little relieved.

Netanyahu was about to call an election because his coalition was about to collapse. The Israeli Supreme Court had found the Tal Law, through which ultra-orthodox youth shirk military service, unconstitutional: a violation of the equality provisions of the Basic Law of Human Dignity. Netanyahu thus faced a choice: He could defy the court and flout the Basic Law—neither of which is popular among Likud’s rank and file at, say, Beitar Jerusalem football games—and appease the religious parties in his coalition. But then he would be playing with constitutional fire, something I suspect he, Barak, Mofaz and many in the Likud with IDF pedigree are sincerely loathe to do.

More important, Netanyahu would be infuriating the large secular majority, including many pro-Bibi reactionaries, and pro-Lieberman Russians, who are fed up with paying the taxes and doing the reserves while the Orthodox work to shut down their seafood restaurants.

For most Israelis, demographic fears have less to do with the fertility of West Bank Palestinians—whom Israelis are all too accustomed to excluding from their democracy—than the fertility of Haredim and Israeli Arabs whom they know they cannot, and who soak up most spending on family allowances. Already, 25% of first graders in Israel proper are orthodox and ultra-orthodox classrooms, and 25% are in Arab classrooms. You don’t have to be a prophet to see where the children of Israel are heading.

So, yes, Mofaz made his move because Kadima was headed for an embarrassing defeat, though (as I wrote here earlier) he was better positioned than any other “centrist” to go down swinging: strengthening Netanyahu’s overall opposition, that is, by cutting into Likud’s Mizrahi and Russian tribes, and thus possibly denying the current roster of parties in Netanyahu’s hard-right coalition its narrow Knesset majority. And, yes, Netanyahu can now put off having to face an electorate that is more volatile than the polls show and will eventually vote with half an eye on the American election.

Still, a Likud-Kadima “unity” coalition actually represents an overdue alignment of the urbane forces in the country that have to come together to preserve Israeli civil society. You study Weimar and other failed democracies and you see that things can go in another, more horrifying direction when secular parties with at least a core of liberal leaders fight each other rather than make common cause against nationalist and clerical fanatics.

Read on at The Daily Beast

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Forum On Boycott, Divestment, And Sanctions

The Nation asked Omar Barghouti and myself to debate BDS in light of Peter Beinart's call to boycott products from the settlements. Our exchange can be linked to here.  My full contribution is below.

A boycott of Israel's settlements makes sense, but a broader boycott will most hurt those forces inside Israel that are best poised to change Israeli state policy. 

The American response to Peter Beinart’s New York Times op-ed calling for an economic boycott of Israel’s West Bank settlements—what he calls, usefully, “non-democratic Israel”—will strike Israeli liberals as just a little melodramatic.

Not very much is produced in the settlements, which are largely bedroom communities. Most liberal Israelis have been boycotting products from the settlements for years: Dead Sea creams, organic eggs, boutique wines and spices. Recently, various scholars, artists and scientists signed statements announcing our refusal to cooperate with, or even visit, the college established in the settlement of Ariel, between Ramallah and Nablus; a college originally established by Bar-Ilan University, but now applying—with the support of Netanyahu’s government, and in the face of considerable opposition from the Council of Higher Education—to be upgraded to an independent university. A couple of years ago, writing against the BDS movement against Israel as a whole in these pages, I called for just such a boycott myself.

The settlers have, let us say, a problem with boundaries. Boycotting their products is simple, direct and clearly targeted: if a settler business loses customers, its settlement may prove less viable. This is a way of using obvious market freedoms to manifest our dissent or opposition to the settlement project as a whole. (For their part, and by the same token, most settlers don’t subscribe to the liberal daily Haaretz—in effect, they boycott the newspaper, and want it to go away.)

And Beinart is right to want the boycott of settlements to be international. Presumably, this will pressure Israeli companies, too, into dissociating themselves from the settlements and, in some cases, proving that they are not using settlement components or raw materials. The Israeli right wants to establish facts to erase the boundary between Israel and the occupied territories. A boycott of settlements establishes counter-facts that reinforce an eventual boundary: about a fifth of Israel’s GDP is from exports, and any serious Israeli company is global.

But the settlement boycott has another virtue, which is to bring into relief the kind of boycott that should not be entertained, namely, a general boycott of all Israeli products and institutions. That boycott would erase another boundary, between the Israeli state per se—the country and its civil society—and the state apparatus under particular elected leaders.

Erase that boundary, and you erase the discrete facts of Israeli politics; you repudiate the idea that a more moderate government could ever be elected again, though polls show that a split in the Shas party, or the emergence of a charismatic centrist, or a shift in Israeli Arab electoral strategies (all of which, or none of which, may happen this year), would tip the Knesset and government back to what it was under Ehud Olmert, who just attended the J Street conference, by the way.

Israel, in other words, is a complicated place. Its democracy is certainly more than what produced the occupation of Palestine. Imagine European officials, intellectuals, etc., reading grim headlines about America’s invasion of Iraq, and concluding that the war was the product (as it was to some degree) of America’s imperial political structure and peculiar concepts of liberty. Imagine their advocating a boycott of everything American, from Google, to The Nation, to Berkeley—in effect, an end to the United States as we know it, including Bush’s internal opposition. Would this have been thought sane?

To be sure, Israeli democracy is not what it could be. I defer to no one in having risked what writers risk to tell hard truths about it. I wrote in The Tragedy of Zionism, nearly thirty years ago, that settlements were only the most vivid proof of Israel’s democratic deficiencies; that some of its legal structures amounted to discrimination against Israeli Arabs and valorization of religious orthodoxy—more precisely, reflected the absence of a liberal social contract needed to allow all citizens to meet as equals. And, yes, Israeli state agencies and the IDF have been instrumental in making the occupation what it is. Still, Israel is also a place of progressive and creative forces, concentrated in Israeli elites: again, artists and scholars, but also entrepreneurs and professionals.

BDS aims to hit global companies doing business with Israeli ones. But, as a group, international companies are the most important allies Israeli liberals have. These companies are learning and teaching organizations: Intel’s impact on Israel is like MIT’s on Cambridge. Opposing the bloc of parties favoring Greater Israel is a (somewhat weaker) bloc working toward Global Israel. What would BDS do to the latter, the very people in Israel whom the liberal world needs to strengthen?

You see, the implicit premise of BDS is that the occupation flows from the fact of Israel itself: that Israel is inherently a kind of occupation machine, beginning with 1948 and followed by 1967. In effect, BDS advocates accept the grotesque view of settlers and Hamas both, that the claim of Jews to Hebron in 2012 is exactly like the claim to Degania in 1912. It is not: the actions of a desperate movement are not to be copied by a triumphant state; after he became mayor, Jean Valjean did not keep stealing candlesticks.

On the other hand, BDS advocates argue that the stock of global companies making things used by occupation forces—United Technologies makes IDF helicopters, for example—should be divested, as if companies are big collaboration machines. But the same company’s air-conditioners may be cooling a school in Afula—or Gaza. In both cases, looking at Israel, or at companies, we need to up the magnification.

Some will say, fine, force the implosion of Israel’s private sector and this will finally force Israeli elites to seek political change more urgently. This is mechanistic and shortsighted thinking. Economic implosion, which a fully implemented BDS would bring about rather quickly, will cut the ground out from under Israel’s most educated and cosmopolitan people. It will not just pressure them, it will destroy them—ruin their lives, force the emigration of their children. Settlers and their ultra allies, in contrast, have no problem with Israel turning into a poorer, purer, Jewish Pakistan. Do we really want to cause Israel’s private sector to collapse or its universities to be isolated?

I suppose what offends me most about BDS is that it confuses anger with serious politics. It is something like the Tea Party, mad at “government,” too righteous to distinguish baby from bathwater. What we need, rather, is a vibrant, globalizing Israel, businesses, universities, etc. that expect to be part of the world and show the way to it; people who find Greater Israel an embarrassment and, indeed, will see an international boycott of settlements as a way of selling their case for compromise. Such people will be strengthened, not by BDS, but by a general, persistent anxiety about the conflict’s “opportunity cost”: the conviction that Israel’s manifestly improving quality of life will be a far cry from what it could be with peace.

That is the vision a re-elected President Obama should be preparing to bring: for Israel’s security everything, for Israel’s occupation nothing. That is the vision he tried to bring before 2010’s electoral reversals spooked all Democrats into the arms of AIPAC. With the Palestinian Authority on the brink of collapse, and successive Centcom commanders warning of a mean turn in the Arab street if the settlements are not stopped, is it too much to hope that the embrace is not permanent?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Tel Aviv Rising

''I don't believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings,'' Yuval Diskin, the former head of the Israeli Secret Service said this past week. The gathering was to celebrate Israeli’s Independence Day in the Tel Aviv suburb of Kfar Saba. He was speaking in code.

One cannot use the word “messianic” in Israel today and mean it purely metaphorically. Diskin did not just mean that Netanyahu was acting zealously or with an arguably exaggerated sense of mission. His criticism reportedly focused on what he took to be Prime Minister Netanyahu's threats against Iran. But he also expressed concern about a government that apparently has “no interest” in negotiations with the Palestinians, and he stressed concern about relations with Washington.

The problem—which Diskin’s double entendre conveyed perfectly—is that Israel’s current leadership either believes, or has made itself hostage to people who believe, that a messianic era really has been at hand since the 1967 war: that a sacred land has been liberated for Jews to “return” to and the country is protected by something like a divine plan. These ideas, praise God, are finally starting to drive more nearly educated Israelis—centrists, even peace skeptics—a little nuts.

Read on at The Daily Beast